About That New, Secret Obama Tape...

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 2 2012 10:08 PM

About That New, Secret Obama Tape...

On June 5, 2007, Tucker Carlson told viewers of his MSNBC show -- Tucker, which was a really underrated show, actually -- that struggling presidential candidate Barack Obama had given a shockingly race-tinged speech.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Barack was talking about a quiet riot today," said Carlson. "And no, it was not a reference to a 1980s heavy metal band, unfortunately. The senator waded into the controversial waters of race during a speech Hampton University in Virginia. He said the Bush administration has done little to quell a brewing storm among some black Americans. He compared the current tension to what fueled the L.A. riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict."

And he showed some of it to viewers:

These quiet riots that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires of destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and death. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. The stare takes hold in young people all across the country; look at the way the world is and they believe that things are never going to get better.
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Did I remember remember this wholesale? Nope. The liberal tracker group American Bridge grabbed the video earlier tonight, as The Drudge Report teased that Carlson's web site, the Daily Caller, had a tape that would change the election. The accompanying article is co-bylined by Carlson. He had not found the entire tape in 2007; the new tape was "exclusively" obtained by the Caller. "Obama gave the speech in the middle of a hotly-contested presidential primary season," writes Carlson, "but his remarks escaped scrutiny. Reporters in the room seem to have missed or ignored his most controversial statements."

What did they miss?

Obama begins his address with “a special shout out” to Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor who nearly derailed Obama’s campaign months later when his sermons attacking Israel and America and accusing the U.S. government of “inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color” became public. To the audience at Hampton, Obama describes Wright as, “my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He’s a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country.”

How did the rest of the media miss that? Well, the rest of the media didn't miss it. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs grabbed this section of the video and posted it more than four years ago.

But Johnson isn't and wasn't part of the mainstream media. He runs a popular "anti-Jihadist" blog. And as Carlson points out, though he'd reported the "quiet riot" segment, no one in the MSM had reported Obama's longer riff on the government, disaster response, and race.

People in Washington, they wake up, they’re surprised: ‘There’s poverty in our midst! Folks are frustrated! Black people angry!’ Then there’s gonna be some panels, and hearings, and there are commissions and there are reports, and then there’s some aid money, although we don’t always know where it’s going — it can’t seem to get to the people who need it — and nothin’ really changes, except the news coverage quiets down and Anderson Cooper is on to something else.

The upshot of this, according to Carlson, is that the future president "spent 36 minutes at the pulpit telling a mostly black audience that the U.S. government doesn’t like them because they’re black."

But here's the question: Did the MSM fail to notice this? Answer: Not really. On June 5's episode of Special Report, Fox News's Brit Hume mentioned the Obama remarks in a news rundown.

Senator Obama today said the Bush administration has done nothing to defuse what he calls a quiet riot among black Americans, a riot he suggests is ready to erupt. Obama said African American resentments and frustrations are building, especially, he said, because so many blacks from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are still displaced 21 months after Hurricane Katrina. Obama warned against conditions similar to those in Los Angeles 15 years ago.
"Not only do we still have the scars of the riots and the quiet riots that happen every day, but how in too many places all across the country, we haven't even bothered to take the bullet out."
Obama was speaking at a conference of black clergy at Virginia's Hampton University.

The same day, ABC News's Jake Tapper filed a matter-of-fact report on the speech.

Addressing the Hampton University Annual Ministers’ Conference in Hampton, Virginia, Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., discussed poverty and implied the Bush administration has been ignoring serious issues of poverty and hopelessness in the U.S. — what he termed “quiet riots.”
The man angling to become the first African-American president in history pointed out that 19 months after Hurricane Katrina — and 15 years after the Los Angeles riots, “the homes haven’t been built, the businesses haven’t returned, and those same communities are still drowning and smoldering under the same hopelessness as before the tragedy hit.”

On June 6, Maureen Dowd cited the Hampton speech in her NYT column.

When he wants to, Mr. Obama can rouse the crowd to multiple ovations, as he did yesterday when he talked with a preacher's passion about the ''quiet riot'' of frustration of blacks in this country, on issues like Katrina, in a speech before black clergy at Hampton University in Virginia.

That was the NYT's only reference to the speech. The Washington Post ran only a short dispatch by Perry Bacon.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in a speech yesterday that "quiet riots that take place every day" in impoverished communities around the country create conditions that lead to violence such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
"Most of the ministers here know that those riots didn't erupt overnight; there had been a 'quiet riot' building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years," Obama told a conference of ministers at Hampton University in Virginia. "If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton -- you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge."

On the June 7 episode of NPR's Tell Me More, a panel of AOL's Jimi Izrael, ESPN's Alvin Patrick, and writer Alvin Wang discussed the "riot" quote.

IZRAEL: Let's move on and talk about the Denver Post quoting Barack Obama saying that the Bush administration has done nothing to defuse the quiet riot of black discontent in this country, even alluding to like race riots, like now, in past, and maybe in the future.
Now check this out, Alvin. I don't know about you and what LISTSERVs you're on, but I didn't getting any memo about any revolution. I mean...
(Soundbite of laughter)
IZRAEL: ...is Barack Obama like trying to make an important point, or he was trying to blacken his image?
PATRICK: Well, you know, if you think about it, he was talking in front of a mostly black audience down at Hampton, if I'm not mistaken. And, you know, to be quite honest, I am an Obama fan, but I have noticed that he does sort of, you know, changes linguistic qualities a touch when he gets in front of different audience - which I guess every politician does. It's just that he was supposed to be that breath of fresh air that we all were supposed to love, and I think, you know - a riot simmering? I'm not so sure about that.
IZRAEL: Well, this is that whole DuBoisian flip-flop, you know, where you're wearing a dashiki one minute and you're wearing Brooks Brothers the next. Oliver, I'm saying, I mean, I love Obama, too. That's my dude. You know, he owes me money. But how do you feel about his flip-flopping?
WANG: I mean, I don't know if it's a flip-flop. I do think that he's being very strategic in how he wears his hats, and, you know, this kind of - you know, this goes back to the whole issue of is Barack black enough for the black electorate. And I think, he is definitely learning how to speak to his audiences.

So the MSM didn't ignore the Hampton speech. They didn't find it controversial, and they didn't treat it like a controversy -- not Obama references to "black folks," not Obama's occasional switched-up dialect.

Was there bias on display? Of a sort, yes. But I don't think it was malicious. In summer 2007, reporters on the presidential beat tracked Obama's speeches to black audiences for one main reason: To find out if he could win black voters away from the Clintons. Political reporters were watching Obama in Hampton to see if he was connecting. To their eyes, he was. Nobody thought to ask whether the candidate went overboard or oversold an accent or was right about the facts of Katrina funding. In that last case, I think you can criticize the Fourth Estate for phoning it in.

But I don't think you can answer the basic question -- "Why didn't the media see how radical this was?" -- from a neutral position. Reporters in 2007 didn't hear criticism of the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina as racially coded. In 2012, after nearly four years of President Obama, the country's been pretty well free of federal anti-white bias or redistribution. Obama pandered to his audience. The press was rating the effectiveness of the pander.

So this isn't really a story about Barack Obama. It's about the media. The Caller's one of many conservative media organizations dedicated to the principle that the media, by failing to worry Obama over his panders and biography, did not "vet" him. It doesn't matter if the press covered an Obama story. They didn't cover it enough. Last week's Caller blockbuster told readers that the young Eric Holder had participated in a black student assocation's occupation of a vacated ROTC center, and it didn't matter that many profiles of Holder had covered this -- they didn't cover it enough. We know this, because voters did not get worried about it. This story hasn't been reheated. The media just used a microwave, when conservatives know they should have put it in the middle of a nuclear reactor.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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